Ready on the peak? Ready on the peak!
Ready on the throat? Ready on the throat!
A tanned and sinewy crew member calls and we respond, repeating the orders, then heaving and pulling the line as a team. I had signed up for a two day sail, cruising the midcoast Maine waters on the Windjammer Angelique. I understand now why there are guests who return every Summer. It’s an escape and an adventure. You can mingle with your fellow passengers, or stay solitary, pitch in as much as you’d like, walk, swim, row or do nothing but read and eat and sleep in the sun like a cat. The late August sun shone every day over the sparkling ocean, and all the stars came out at night. It was heaven.
We were leaving on the early high tide, so I arrived at 7 am by taxi to Camden Harbor, on Atlantic Avenue below the library. All was quiet and pristine. There was no mistaking the Angelique’s rust red sails, so I hoisted my canvas and camera bags and walked the plank up to the Angelique. I was met by Eric, First Mate, who showed me the ins and outs of the head and took me to my stateroom, a tiny space all my own with a bunk bed, small sink, and a hatch that opened topside, which kept me from feeling claustrophobic. I threw my things on the top bunk and went topside to explore and mingle.
Most other guests had boarded, slept on ship the night before, and were milling around, drinking coffee and looking pleasantly anxious, like kids on the first day of school. I assessed the group, as I always do in elevators or other close quarters, and determined I could be shipwrecked with this cast: two families of four (children over nine are welcome aboard), single ladies traveling together, older men traveling alone, and young European-looking lovers, all clad in Sperry topsiders and wide-brimmed hats. Soon we were moving and Sarah, the ship’s CIA-trained baker, was ringing the breakfast (lunch, and dinner) bell, inviting us down below for blueberry pancakes, Maine maple syrup, homemade sausage and orange juice. We sat clustered close around three bench tables and ate family style with our shipmates.
I heard that the cook had made the sausage himself; that’s when I introduced myself to a bearded man in suspenders with tattoos on his knuckles and a warm chuckle. William Howe is a Cordon-Bleu trained chef who has been working in very good restaurants around New England for over a decade, including a stint at one of our Portland favorites, Petite Jacqueline. When not using excellent technique and agility to cook in the very narrow galley of The Angelique, he’s a scuba instructor and Rumplemintz enthusiast, which means I can trust him with my meals and my life.
With the hills and sails of Camden in the middle distance I see a man heading toward us in a dinghy. Captain Mike came aboard and introduced cast and crew, which includes Bill and Sarah in the galley, mates Eric, James, Zach and Meara, and gave a small speech about how our destination is Camden, meaning we wander aimlessly around the spruce-flecked Penobscot Bay for two days until Sunday morning, when we return to shore. Whether this rhetoric is part of the theater of the sea or not matters little, it gives a thrill to feel without itinerary, free from phones and Facebook and email. And with that, we set sail with the wind.
This is when the crew enlisted volunteers to unfurl the mizzen and hoist the main sail and all sorts of other very nautical-sounding tasks. I was otherwise occupied sleeping under a book watching the clouds go by, chatting up the other passengers, and waiting for my next meal. I took my role as resident food blogger very seriously, and ate everything they offered, and then went back around for seconds. More on this later. I have not been without my tiny, adorable companion for the last seven months (and, really, for the nine before that) and I planned to bask in sleepiness and solitude as a lady of leisure.
I ate, I drank, I tanned, I napped, I made pleasant conversation, and I swam without guilt or responsibility. It was glorious. And, of course, I took photos and copious notes in my journal. A few short hours after breakfast, lunch was served on deck: an incredible fish chowder, green salad, and flaky biscuits. I was beginning to realize that meals on the Angelique were going to be memorable. They weren’t using a rusty can opener to feed us Hormel chili with a side of hardtack. The food was fresh, bright, and elegant. I really wanted to get an interview with the chef, but first, another nap under my straw hat.
The afternoon grew long, and we sat stagnant on the windless water. It was hot and I was restless, ready for a change of scene, some land under my feet. At four o’clock we were climbing down the ladder backwards into the ketch’s rowboat, taking ourselves to shore at Pond Island Wildlife Refuge for a hike and a lobster bake. I had changed into my suit, determined to swim in the calm but freezing waters. It was as chilly as you might expect New England’s Atlantic waters to be, but I didn’t mind. I felt free, weightless, blissful. When my fingers started going numb, I swam toward the others who had braved the bracing sea, floated a bit and emerged, refreshed and renewed. Thank goodness it was then time for supper.
Cheese and crackers were served at the water’s edge, as the sun sank toward the horizon. Someone opened a bottle of Ketel One, so we mixed vodka tonics and it was so civilized, the ghost of EM Forster showed up. Then it was time for the main event. Lobster cooked in seaweed one of the mates had gathered offshore, a three bean salad with poblano peppers, dressed in olive oil, and plastic cups of white wine. I ate mine sitting on a piece of driftwood, chatting with an older gentleman from Florida. The sweet meat was plentiful: we were all encouraged to have two, at least. But I was saving room for s’mores toasted over the open fire. There were also hot dogs and Boca burgers available, for those not interested in eating lobster. In the almost-dark, we rowed back to the Angelique for hot showers and stargazing in sweaters.
I didn’t wake up until nine-thirty the next morning, to the sound of Sarah announcing a breakfast of quiche made with lobster, Canadian bacon, and fruit salad. It was the latest, longest I’d slept in over a year, and it was delicious. We were anchored near Castine, which means I was about an hour and a half from home, but felt worlds away. The air was crisp and pine-scented as we sailed to our next destination, Holbrook Island Sanctuary State Park, where I walked alone into the woods, noticing the first fire-colored leaves this year. Then a small, brave group decided to dive from the anchored ship into the ocean, encouraging each other to find pockets of warmth. Once again, I felt elated to be swimming in Maine’s icy waters.
And then it was time again to eat. We were so well-fed on this trip, we started wondering if they were fattening us up intentionally for some unknown and nefarious purpose. Lunch on Saturday was tarragon-curry chicken salad wraps with olive oil, lemon, chives, a touch of mayo, honey and pickled grapes and a crisp pink apple salad. Bill the chef uses a standard pickling blend, plus cloves, red wine vinegar, garlic and sage to pickle grapes, a taste sensation that was totally unexpected and totally great.
At this point in the journey, a real camaraderie had developed among the passengers, which I’ve never experienced during vacations on land. Unrelated adults indulging the whims of, and mildly reprimanding children who did not belong to them, casual conversation in between naps and crossword puzzles and snacks, a feeling of peace blanketing our afternoon cruise in calm waters. By dinner time we were all starving, and salivated in a Pavlovian fashion at the sound of the dinner bell. Marinated steak tips with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, roasted squash and chocolate chip brownies for dessert.
After dinner, we took our places around ship, as if we’d done this a thousand times. One of the older women helped Sarah with the dishes, while the young Swiss lovers practiced tying knots on each others’ wrists. In the deckhouse, members of the crew (have I mentioned how cute and helpful they all were?) played banjo and guitar until quiet hour at eleven o’clock. I listened for a few songs, from “Good Night Irene” to “Wagon Wheel,” and then retired to my bunk to read until I fell asleep to the sound of mingled voices of song and sea.
Sunday morning dawned clear and bright. We could see Camden Harbor, but the trip wasn’t over yet. On the deck, the mess mates presented breakfast: Bill’s impressive cured gravlax (equal parts brown sugar and kosher salt, lemon juice, and dill, wrapped and pressed for three days) with bagels, cream cheese, onions, capers, and cornichons. There was also a homemade granola, yogurt, and sliced fresh fruit. I savored this meal in silence, knowing it was my last on the Angelique. I was truly, vividly happy, and I was ready to go home.
Tears fell down my sunburnt cheeks when I caught sight of Malcolm and Violet waving from the dock. My very own family had missed me, and was awaiting my return. Everyone was exchanging phone numbers and email addresses and signing posters and snapping photos while I ran down the white gangway into the arms of my husband and daughter. It was the best two day vacation for a woman traveling alone, a new mom, a food lover, a lady in search of a small piece of sanity, a world watcher and amateur naturalist. I loved getting to read, write, talk, and photograph all by myself in such good company. I cannot imagine a better host than the Angelique and her crew.
My thanks to Captain Mike, all the crew, and Meg Maiden of the Maine Windjammer Association. Check back tomorrow for an informal interview with Bill Howe, chef aboard the Angelique, plus an amazing recipe from the trip.
Disclaimer: We were invited aboard the Angelique by the Maine Windjammer Association, to sample their recently-overhauled on-board menu, with no further obligation to cover the topic on our website. All photos and opinion are my own, and I have not been otherwise compensated for including them here.